Book Title: Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Approx Leisure Read Time: 300 – 340 min
Review: For someone who has already read another book by the same author, it generally is quite difficult not to compare the two books. I too was tempted initially. I had picked up the book and abandoned it at least four times by the time I reached first 10 pages because it didn’t capture me right away like the Mahabharata adaptation did. Fifth time, before I picked it up I made up my mind to ignore the fact that it’s a book by same author and treat it individually on its merits and demerits. When I brought myself down from that expectation pedestal and started reading it again, I was finally able to slowly immerse myself in the epic’s retelling.
Devdutt choice to base his retelling’s main character as Sita is an interesting one. It instantly slots his retelling as being from a women’s point of view in our patriarchal society. The book follows the story from Sita’s birth and her childhood, her marriage and her life in the forest, her abduction by Ravana and her subsequent stay at his palace, the ensuing war for her release and Ram’s return to Ayodhya, her reputation being questioned twice and her being abandoned, her life as a mother of Luv-Kush and her being eventually being swallowed up by Earth. Around this central theme, various characters and their stories and interaction with each other and with Sita has been retold.
Ramayana, the epic has multitude of characters and their story of the consequences of their actions has been woven into a great tale with attempts to synthesize the meaning and reason for the existence of this very epic. This epic is ideally predated to Mahabharata and there are numerous references to it.
Ramayana for me always has been about a celebration of an individual called Ram, who because of his decisions, was worshipped across the Hindu Religion as a god. Now such a story wouldn’t become an epic unless every person/author/poet who has retold the story attempts to find meaning and reasons behind Ram’s decisions throughout the story. Couple that with the deeply rooted patriarchal societal values, and what this has done is that it has led to ideas such as violence against women, women being objectified and honour of men being more important than women being acceptable interpretations. And now that’s a dangerous thing to get attached to an epic.
The author has given a virtuous meaning of each story from which you can learn something. Mr Pattanaik has also listed out various interpretations and many anecdotes and specific character side stories along with each chapter clearly reinforcing that epic shouldnt be just looked at as an a factual historical story of a man who walked this earth in an older era of human civilisation, but also rather to look at it at a philosophical level, understand the interplay of various norms of living in a community in a human civilization and how it constantly juxtaposes a human’s quest to lead a righteous life.
Verdict: Ramayana can be that epic which can be sliced and diced philosophically, mythologically, spiritually and historically that will provide you with food for thought every time you take it up for reading. In the end I would like to borrow what Spectralhues say about it. (You can read their review of the book here). In terms of both the interpretation and the original story, this book is nectar for the seekers, philosophy for the speculators, wisdom for the seers, entertainment for the common man, knowledge for the curious and a fresh perspective for the commentators.
For me, it has made me aware that the fight for women’s equality is still a long one as the patriarchical society’s values are deeply rooted not because they are part of the epic Ramayana, but because the epic’s retellings merely provide us the evidence of its existence and man’s feeling of superiority over women. It’s a jewel full of Vedic wisdom and intellectual curiosity if we sift through it properly. I would rate it a four star because I am pretty sure I will read Ramayana again, may be a different adaptation or a retelling, but with an open mind knowing beforehand that it’s just another retelling and what i am actually reading will be the author’s interpretation of it.
Note: I received quite a few thumbs up for my review of Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata by the same author (You can check it out here). That lead to few people asking me to borrow it for reading. Few asked me to read and review Devdutt Pattanaik’s adaptation of Ramayana in form of Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana. The opportunity presented itself two weeks back when an office colleague of my wife loaned her the book. I picked it up on the weekend and read through.Posted on